Richard Coles: A typically Anglican compromise on women bishops

The Church is working out its way of life within horizons not of this world

Share
Related Topics

There was an ancient tradition that when someone was consecrated bishop they said, "Nolo episcopari", meaning, "I don't want to be a bishop". It is impossible to say how many episcopal careers thus began with a lie, and the tradition was wisely abandoned. The words might be heard again this week when the General Synod of the Church of England meets; they will be spoken, however, by women seeking to change the Church's rules that at which moment restrict episcopacy to men; and they will be spoken through gritted teeth because these women have been fighting for this change for decades.

How can a change so long awaited, so carefully debated, fall at the last fence? The Synod, an organisation with the clout of a Neighbourhood Watch Association tasked to transact the business of The Council of Nicea, was expected to endorse the decision of 42 of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England to go ahead with the change. It has been a long and difficult and thorough debate but we have – finally – got there. Except we haven't.

Opposition to the change has proved surprisingly durable and, indeed, creative since women priests appeared 20 years ago. As a result, the Church has worked very hard to find a form of agreement which would allow women bishops to be consecrated, yet make room within the Church – a sort of native reservation, if you like – for those who cannot accept them. So hard has it worked that, in spite of the decision of the dioceses, the bishops have proposed some amendments which have alienated everyone. Those who oppose change think they don't go far enough. Those who seek change think they so weaken the episcopal ministry of women we would be better off not bothering – hence the reprise of the Nolo episcopari.

While this is a spectacle most lookers-on must find unintelligible, the Church is only doing what it has always done, which is seek to work out its way of life within horizons and perspectives that are not of this world.

To say so is not to come down on one side or the other – I happen to be very much in favour of women bishops, and not only because it offers the tantalising possibility of a bishop one day being called †Belinda Carlisle – but to suggest that our decision-making will always seem peculiar.

It can be immensely frustrating and it can produce lopsided outcomes. But it also offers at the very least the hope of a compromise between two irreconcilable positions without everyone setting fire to themselves or each other.

Richard Coles is a broadcaster and a Church of England parish priest

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?